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Toronto: JFK Drama 'Parkland' Seeks to Overcome Tepid Reviews

Peter Landesman's feature directorial debut, like "Bobby," features a star-studded cast and focuses on the day -- and impact -- of a Kennedy assassination.

Parkland Paul Giamatti - H 2013
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TORONTO -- On Friday night, the Toronto International Film Festival hosted the North American premiere of journalist Peter Landesman's feature directorial debut, Parkland, at Roy Thomson Hall. The film, which Landesman adapted from Vincent Bugliosi's book Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, stars Zac Efron, James Badge Dale, Colin Hanks, Paul Giamatti and Jacki Weaver, who were in the house, plus Marcia Gay Harden, Mark Duplass, Billy Bob Thornton and Jackie Earle Haley, who were not. It received mixed-to-poor reviews at its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival this week, but healthy applause followed its Toronto screening.

PHOTOS: The Films at Toronto

Parkland, which derives its title from the Dallas hospital where John F. Kennedy was taken after being shot on Nov. 22, 1963 -- and which also treated his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, days later -- is eerily reminiscent of Bobby (2006), another star-studded film about the day a Kennedy died and the impact of his death on those around him. On paper, both films read like surefire awards magnets, boasting impressive casts that recreate important historical events. But both, unfortunately, fall victim to the hazard of biting off more than any one film can possibly chew.

Parkland tries to capture not only the experience of the doctors and nurses at Parkland, but also that of Abraham Zapruder, shooter of the 16-mm film that became, effectively, the world's first viral video; the employees of the FBI's Dallas bureau; and Oswald's  mother (portrayed by Weaver) and brother (played by Dale). It does not delve into the endless conspiracy theories that still surround the Kennedy assassination, which did nothing to dissuade the kooks from coming out to protest it. As ticket holders filed into the theater, a man ran up and down Simcoe Street yelling, "Don't believe this movie! The CIA killed John Kennedy!"

Bobby ended up with a best drama picture nomination from star-obsessed Golden Globe voters, but Parkland can't realistically expect more recognition than that. In all likelihood, it will receive less. Exclusive Releasing will open the film domestically on Oct. 4 just as attention is beginning to focus on the 50th anniversary of the 35th president's assassination.

Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.